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What George Tenet Knew About Iraq
Review Highlights Possible Role as 'Downing Street Memo' Informer
07/02/2007 12:54 PM ET
George Tenet
Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty
George Tenet

Since the May 2005 publication of the leaked "Downing Street memo," speculation has persisted about which US official(s) may have given the British MI6 director the impression that US intelligence was "being fixed around the policy."

In a new piece for the NY Review of Books (sub. req.), Thomas Powers, analyzing a critical passage of George Tenet's memoir, picks up on an obvious error in fact that seems to implicate the former director of the CIA.

In July 2002, MI6 director Richard Dearlove was sent to Washington to gauge US sentiment on the British request to involve the UN in drafting a resolution about Iraq.

Powers writes that on Saturday, July 20, "Dearlove and other British intelligence officials visited the CIA in Langley, where George Tenet took Dearlove aside for a private talk that lasted an hour and a half." On July 23, Dearlove reported back to his own government an awkwardly frank assessment that became the basis of the Downing Street memo.

"But first let us consider Tenet's account of this episode in his memoir," Powers writes:

It is deceptive in the extreme. "In May of 2002," (Tenet) writes, Dearlove came to Washington and met with Rice, Hadley, Scooter Libby, and Congressman Porter Goss, then chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Three years later the documents leaked to the British press quoted Dearlove describing his findings in Washington at a Cabinet meeting. Tenet writes, "Sir Richard later told me that he had been misquoted."

May of 2002? Tenet is off by two months. I suspect that Dearlove really did come in May as well, and that Tenet cites the earlier visit to muddy the waters about his meeting with Dearlove on July 20 -- neither denying it took place nor lying about what was said. After May 2005 -- a full year after Tenet had left the CIA -- Dearlove "told me that he had been misquoted." Tenet knows what he told Dearlove; does he think his views were misrepresented by Dearlove's report to the Cabinet, as recorded in the minutes? Tenet does not say. He adds that Dearlove "believed that the crowd around the vice president was playing fast and loose with the evidence." In short, Tenet is trying to put a country mile of daylight between Dearlove's unvarnished report to the British Cabinet and Tenet's 90-minute private conversation with Dearlove at the CIA only three days earlier.

We may assume that the whole of Dearlove's remarks as reported in the Cabinet meeting minutes were colored by what Tenet told him:

C (the traditional designation for the chief of MI6) reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Tenet has done his utmost -- short of lying -- to hide his role as Dearlove's informant, but every point the MI6 director made was something Tenet was uniquely positioned to tell him.


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